After seeing the release of his newest exhibition "Water: Breath of Disruption" which depicts the underwater world around Los Angeles, I caught up with NYC based photographer, Chris Delorenzo to discuss, among other things, his editing process. Chris is an extremely nice guy and has been a huge supporter of Saw & Mitre since the beginning. The last two years I've been witness to his drive to build a career as a photographer and the drive (and considerable talent) it takes to see your client list continue to grow. I think you'll enjoy learning a little bit about how he approaches his edits. Enjoy! - David
Check out more of Chris's beautiful work or give him a follow on Instagram.
Q: If I recall correctly, when we first met you had recently relocated out to the west coast. What's gone on in your photography career in the last two or so years as it your continuing to grow your client base and take on larger and larger projects? What do you think you're doing right that keeps new projects coming in?
Man, that feels like forever ago! Crazily enough, I actually just moved to NYC. I never could have imagined that I would move east, but honestly could also never have imagined what I have been lucky enough to learn, shoot and experience out in California the past few years. When I first moved out to west, I was enrolled in school, but after about a semester’s worth of classes, I dropped out to intern/work for a commercial photographer by the name of Steven Lippman. It was the best “school” I could have asked for. From the start, I was thrown into huge responsibilities on set, and in the office. I learned how you are supposed to talk to clients, the way that a proper shoot should go, and just all the little nuances that go along with being a photographer that you would never learn from a textbook/online. I worked there for about a year, before going off on my own.
Fast forward a bit and I’ve just completed a very personal series on water, which I’ll talk about a little later. I am by no means a surf photographer, rather a waterman who photographs the ocean, its waves but if it happens to be labeled/marketed by others as surf, so be it. Outside of the water work (which is primarily personal and fine art) I have been doing lots of editorial and commercial work. This year I’ve managed to link up with some great companies and publications including Toyota, Racer Magazine, Reef, Entrepreneur Magazine, Gear Patrol, Oribe Haircare and just last week I shot for Rutgers University athletics. As you can see that's a pretty random grouping, but I believe that the work is visually consistent.
There is no single path to get more work, but rather I think persistence is my best tool. It’s about having grit in this passion I call photography. Angela Lee Duckworth has a great TED talk about grit, and she defines grit as, “passion and perseverance for very long term goals”. This past year in particular, I have really pushed towards a very calculated approach in all my work. Every shoot I do has a purpose, and a majority of those stories are created into promo pieces and then sent out to various companies and creatives (or basically anyone who can hire me.) This shouldn’t be confused with shooting solely for the purpose of making money. These personal stories I work on are subject matter that touches me on a personal level. I share the work because it’s the only way I know how to translate my interests into a visual medium.
Q: I'll have to admit, when I first saw your newest series “Water: Breath of Disruption” of underwater images shot around Los Angeles, I didn't actually believe it was LA. Mostly due to the clarity of water. The times I've surfed in LA it wasn't like that. Tell us a little bit about creating that project. What were you looking for, how long did it take, what equipment were you using?
This is by far my favorite project to date. Waves seen from beneath the surface are not something people see every day, or ever in their entire life. I knew from the moment I caught a glimpse of these waves from below that I had to create a series on it. I’d seen random outtakes from surf photographers of this underwater world, but no one really put them into a cohesive show/series. So I sort of fell into the project pretty naturally.
I had just switched my whole camera system over from Canon to Nikon, moving to the insanely quick Nikon D4s and the 14-24mm 2.8. It’s the dream setup to have underwater; fast, wide and incredibly sharp. The camera was kept dry in an Aquatech housing, which I cannot speak more highly of. They are beautifully machined and give me full control of my camera. I guess some people might argue that the 16 megapixels of the Nikon D4s isn’t enough for large prints, but I’ll tell them I have a 54” wide underwater print on my wall and it is insanely clear. I can go up to 80” wide for gallery shows and it would print beautifully. The other option would be to use the Nikon D810, but at less than 5 fps, you would miss more than half the shots the D4s nails. Shooting underwater is one of those things that is totally out of your control. You can prepare to be in the right position, have the right gear, and know that wave inside and out, but sometimes there is magic just a few yards away, or a rogue wave that holds you down and you miss the next few sets. So, these images are really the result of when preparation meets opportunity, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It takes a lot of time and a multitude of images to create 12 strong photographs. I believe It was about 60,000 images boiled down to those 12.
It’s definitely a strange dance one has with the ocean when shooting water, but I wouldn’t trade that challenge for anything. I shot most of this in North Malibu, and there are a few spots where the water on some days rivals that of anywhere in the world. I honestly prefer the water color there versus spots like the Maldives and Hawaii. There is something almost inexplicable about the tones.
Q: Take us through your edit of one of your images (before/after). What programs do you use, etc etc.
Above is the before and after of this underwater image. It was shot on a cloudy day, which provided an awesome canvas for a dynamically rich photograph. As you can see in the raw, the full range of values are there, nothing is blown out and all the information in the shadows exist. I love starting with a raw image like that, so that when I add contrast, I have room to push and pull the image before it falls apart. That being said, it is really case by case. I’m not afraid to have limited detail in some shadows or highlights in the final version, it just depends on the subject matter and the mood I’m trying to convey.
So once I choose which image I am going to edit, I open it in Capture One, and apply basic adjustments. The white balance is shifted blue and the tint towards magenta. The before image on the left really isn’t what the scene looked like because the camera was set to a warmer white balance, probably Cloudy or Shade. Once that is shifted, I then will push contrast up and saturation down, in order to create a look that is almost metallic in a way. It’s a dance to find the right balance, and again, it differs on every image. Sometimes I will also push up clarity to apply a high-pass-like effect which punches in the details. Then I will process the image, bring it into photoshop, and remove any dust, seaweed or stray bubbles that are distracting. Finally I’ll save the image as both a Tiff (for printing/high res purposes) and as a JPEG (for web/social media).
I rarely create “presets” or “styles” (which can be batch applied to a large number of images time and time again) because every day and beach is a different color and lighting situation.
Q: If you had to bring one lens and one camera body on a shoot with you what would it be and why?
Hands down it would be my Nikon D810 and Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART. That camera has the most insane tones I’ve ever seen. The way it holds the gradients and captures such deep colors is mind blowing. It delivers the richest images in a 35mm sensor by far, only rivaled by Phase One medium format. The 35 1.4 is such a timeless focal length, it’s beautiful for documentary work and the colors that lens captures blows something like the 24-70 out of the water.
Q: What's coming up for you in the next few months?
I’m wrapping up a bunch of commercial work from this month in NYC, but at the end of October I am headed to Asia. While I’m out there it will be a mix of commercial work, personal/documentary projects, and hopefully a surf trip. I’m going to be working on a story on fishing, which I am really excited about. It’s going to be a series on one of the oldest professions in the world, and they various ways people fish all over the world. Also, in January I will have my second solo show, exhibiting my underwater imagery at an awesome gallery space in Los Angeles. Other than that, just continuing to work on some personal work here on the east coast. I really believe in personal work, and it’s such a blast researching, prepping, shooting, and sharing it.
Thanks again for Chris for sharing his time and images with us!
See more of his images here or find him on Instagram here.